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In Chatham, fewer kids = fewer teachers

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CHATHAM–The school board is proposing a $26.6 million budget for the 2010-11 school year, with a projected tax levy increase of 2.54%. The board approved the amount at a special meeting Tuesday April 20. The annual vote will be held Tuesday May 18 at the Mary E. Dardess Elementary School gym from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

In addition to deciding the fate of the budget, district voters will elect two members of the Board of Education to fill open seats.

Schools Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo said in an interview before the April 20 meeting that the district is planning to cut 13 positions next year. They include part-time music and art positions, a physical education position, two special education teachers, one foreign language teacher, a counseling position and one position from each major academic subject in the middle school. There are also reductions planned for materials, equipment and professional development.

Ms. Nuciforo said the administration and board looked at the budget to see how they could educate efficiently in tough economic times. She said staff cuts at the middle school had to do with “a significant cut in enrollment.” Other cuts, she said, also had to do with declining enrollment.

Spending in the proposed budget shows a decrease of 0.72% compared to the current budget. “We are right-sizing,” said Ms. Nuciforo, referring to the cuts. Some class sizes in the middle school will go up to the low 20s due to the teaching cuts, she said, but this year there are some classes with very few students and some very big classes. So these cuts will even out the class sizes, she said.

The district also saved about $190,000 by adopting a so-called one-bell system. School buses make one run in the morning and one in the afternoon for all students in the district instead of making separate runs for older and younger students. Ms. Nuciforo said that this year the district is proposing transportation spending at a lower amount than when it operated two bus runs. The district has included its bus replacement program in the regular budget rather than as a separate proposition on the ballot.

The district is also anticipating the retirement of Principal Ronald Davis in June, a change that will generate more savings. He and John Thorsen currently share the duties of high school principal. The district will hire a new assistant principal for the high school.

At Tuesday night meetings village resident David Levow praised the board for its work on the budget. “I think you should be congratulated on very creative ways to save money, “he said. Mr. Levow suggested the board stress that the stress that the district expects its state aid will be cut by 6.3% in the next school year, but the tax levy in the proposed budget would rise by only 2.5%.

The board will continue talking about the budget with local groups throughout this month. Board members and administrators will hold a budget hearing at the high school library May 11 at 6:30 p.m. For more information and to see a breakdown of the proposed budget go to the district website, www.chathamcentralschools.com.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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